What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Managing skin conditions in dogs”? When we talk about managing skin conditions in dogs, just like humans, we are also talking about Care. As usual, I would try to keep it simple and short. We all love our skin, especially the ladies. For the guys, we usually wear our clothes first, then apply a skin ointment/cream only on the visible parts of the body. Lol-But we still love our skin. At least we love the visible parts. But we can all agree that WE ALL love dogs with a healthy skin/coat!
Those dogs we see and we just want to hug and hold them. And then we come home, and the dog that greets you has hair only on his/her head. The rest of the body is “bare/without hairs”.
I had a dog, Tasha, amazing girl, an Alsatian/Mongrel cross. But alas! She ALWAYS had one annoying skin condition after the other. I kept spending money on skin care products for her. I really felt bad for her, because once it started, she wouldn’t eat, she’d be itchy and restless all day long. I began to regret adopting her.-But it wasn’t her fault.
I got to understand that she wasn’t so different from myself.
Atopy : This is the propensity for an individual to be reactive. The truth is, some dogs are just atopic. They react to virtually anything – shampoo, food, fleas, ticks, name it.
So, yes, some dogs are more reactive than others. Two dogs may be exposed to the same allergen and both react quite differently to it.
I think we should start by saying that skin diseases remain some of the most common and frustrating problem.
Managing skin conditions in dogs: The skin is an important organ in the body. It plays important roles, such as:
– Mechanical protection from; chemical, physical or microbial damage.
– Temperature regulation.
– Effective barrier to prevent loss of water and electrolyte.
– Storage of vitamins, proteins, fat, etc.
– Vitamin D production.
And so on.
Managing skin conditions in dogs: Some of the most common sources of skin problems in dogs include:
– Endocrine imbalance
– Autoimmune Disorders: Here, I’ll touch on each source Allergies. Your dog can develop a food allergy! Yes! Food. Food that took a lot of your time to prepare, or that cost you a lot to buy. Food allergies are typically instigated by protein example; beef, dairy, chicken, eggs.
As a child, I was allergic to beans! But mine didn’t manifest on my skin, it only made me toilet prefect. Food allergies are not so uncommon in dogs and cats. Not only might it make your pet a toilet prefect, it usually also manifests on the skin.
We see an itchy skin on the face, feet, ears, and around the anus. The problem with food allergies is that it is not easy to diagnose. Usually, your vet would do what we call an Elimination Trial. This trial involves placing the pet on a hypoallergenic diet for 8-12 weeks. Hypoallergenic diets usually contain hydrolysed proteins which are less allergenic. This means that during this period, you’re not expected to feed anything else to the dog
– No treats, no kitchen food, as these may interfere with the result of the trial.
– Environmental Allergies: These are usually genetic and more common in certain breeds than in others.
Young dogs (less than 3 years old) are mostly affected. Environmental allergies are typically seasonal, and may be a result of exposure to dust, grass, pollen, etc. This also presents intense itch on the face, feet and ears.
Diagnosis of environmental allergies is also by exclusion. We rule out several other possible causes, before homing in on this.
– Flea Allergy Dermatitis(FAD): Back to my dog, Tasha. Tasha’s skin problem always coincided with the presence of fleas on her body. Even though I had two dogs at the time, only Tasha would itch intensely and lose her hairs. It was frustrating! In a few days, the dog would just become a shadow of herself – lean, itchy, less active, etc.
The saliva of fleas contain an irritant. Hypersensitivity to this irritant also differs from dog to dog. An atopic dog is definitely going to have a more intense response. Fleas aren’t a dog’s best friend at all. Neither are they man’s best friend.
Anytime I touched Tasha, I ended up with fleas in my house. And those disrespectful things were biting me too! The problem got me tired.
Atopy occurs in both dogs and cats, and is an individual thing as I earlier mentioned.
Now, food allergies can now be easily managed. Your vet can use the Royal Canine Hypoallergenic Diet to conduct the Elimination Trial. This food is actually a veterinarian – recommended diet.
Environmental allergies aren’t as easy to manage. We can’t build a cocoon around our pets. They would always in some way be exposed to natural elements that could incite an allergy.
What we can do in addition to meds to manage the skin condition is to also support the skin through appropriate dieting. When a dog has a skin condition, no matter the cause, dieting is always advised as a supportive measure. These can include food/supplements that are rich in certain essential fatty acids like Omega-3 and Omega-6.
Johnsons Cod liver oil contains these.
NaturVet Salmon Oil Skin and Coat Support also works fine. Royal Canin Skin Support is a complete diet for dogs with skin problems. It contains these essential fatty acids, Docosahexanoic acid (DHA), Eicosapenthanoic acid (EPA), amongst others.
These facilitate quick restoration of the skin and coat.
– Hypoallergenic Shampoos are also a must – have if your dog has a skin problem. Magic Coat hypoallergenic shampoo would suffice.
Let’s move over to other causes of skin conditions.
Endocrine imbalances are a valid source of skin problems, especially in cases of hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushings Disease).
I would not bore us with details of these, but your veterinarian must rule this out when dogs are presented to them with a skin condition.
– Autoimmune Disorders are also a cause of skin problems. Basically, autoimmunity simply means you’re punching yourself in the face because you’re surprised your nose is big! My nose is big too, but I won’t punch my face. Lol:)
Now, the immune system just ‘decides’ to see a component of the body as ‘strange’ and decides to attack that component. Imagine how kids react the first time they see themselves in a mirror.
All that excitement! Some kids would want to play with the person in the mirror, others would want to beat the person. All along, the person in the mirror is the child.
That way, the immune system acts surprised at your certain cells in the body, and attacks them.
Examples of these in dogs are SLE, and Pemphigus. Vets must also consider these in their diagnosis.
Now over to some more common causes of skin problems
– Parasites:Parasites! Parasite! A parasite is someone who comes to your house always to eat, but will never buy anything on his/her way. That person is a parasite.
Those kinds of people evolved from ticks, fleas, mites and co.
These parasites only want to take, but would never give anything of value in return. In fact, most times they even leave you with problems.
These parasites aren’t on the dog for fun. They’re actually there to fulfill destiny, amen?
Fleas and ticks are the easily caught culprits. They require blood meals for survival and procreation.
While ticks are so easy to spot, especially when they are engorged with blood, fleas aren’t as easy. Many dog owners even mistake the two. I’d make it easy.
Ticks, whether big or small are lazy when compared to fleas. If you sift through your dog’s hair and see some ‘insects’ in singles or clustered (depending on how badly infested the pet is), and these insects leisurely crawl away to another part, then your most likely dealing with ticks. Ticks are typically flat (dorsoventrally) compressed. Fleas on the other hand are like the famous Adamma Masquerade!
They cant stay at a place.
They’re always jumpy! Very very jumpy. If they’re not in the mood to “jump and pass”, they would speedily migrate to another part of the skin when you disturb them. Fleas are compressed laterally, and typically tiny. No matter how much blood a flea gets it will not get engorged and become fat like the tick.
I hope this helps us to be able to tell who is who.
Now both parasites are harmful and potentially deadly. Tick and/or Flea infestation must be taken seriously. These infestations usually have a domino effect. From transmission of the causal agents of certain diseases, to transmission of certain tapeworms, to discomfort, to lack of appetite, to itchiness, to anaemia (blood loss), name it.
Veterinarians would even attest to the fact that many times, after handling a flea or tick case, we carry some of these parasites home!
One of the clinicians in a Veterinary Teaching Hospital once told me a hilarious story!
He once saw two fat ticks on his body – one hiding in his pubic region, the other on his scrotum!
I wondered how long they must have been there to be ‘fat’, and how he never noticed them before then. I was like, doesn’t this guy bathe? -Only heaven knows.
Truth is that we need to imagine how uncomfortable these things are to our dogs.
Imagine how irritated you are when mosquitoes are feeding on you.
Our pets actually suffer! If they could easily take care of themselves, they would! But guess what? They can’t.
They depend on us to be prompt, proactive, and compassionate when they suffer these infestations
I have had to scold several dog owners who would wait till their dog is literally covered in ticks, before they inform a vet.
I once handled a case where there was almost no space left on the dogs face, including around the eyes! There were ticks everywhere – the rim of the mouth, everywhere! That was one of the grossest sights I’ve had to behold.
I would have rather had a naked mad man sit beside me during dinner, than to have seen a dog in that state.
And the owner is supposedly enlightened. Quite disappointing. Thankfully, followers of this site aren’t these kinds of dog owners.
How do we effectively combat the menace of ticks and fleas?
First, we try to ensure a flea/tick – free surrounding. If you notice it, don’t hesitate to ask your vet for advice, whether to fumigate or not.
Some of us out of overzealousness and undue gallantry rush to give out dogs a chemical bath. As a chemistry master! Acid – base expert!
Dog owners come to the clinic and the vet asks what he did, he’d say “I gave a chemical bath”. Sir, which chemical did you use, he’d say he has forgotten.
So many dog owners have killed their dogs with “chemical bath”.
I’m sure some of us here might have even experienced death of our dog after giving a bath.
Truth is, because the country is what it is at the moment (we’re getting better), people easily import things that have been banned in other climes.
Science evolves, so do medications.
One of the chief culprits of poisoning in dogs after a “chemical bath” is Amitraz. Amitraz is an organophosphate acaricide, very very very dangerous if ingested.
Many countries have banned the use of such organophosphates on their dogs. In fact, in the US, there is very tough legislation around the use of organophosphates even as weed killers.
It’s not a joke. The risk of poisoning, cancers, fertility issues, congenital anomalies, name them.
The world has moved on from Amitraz, a long time ago. Any vet who still subscribes to the use of Amitraz in this dispensation is living in 1943.
We, as dog owners must also question so-called ‘groomers’ who offer to help give our dogs a ” chemical bath”. Ask questions. Ask him which chemical specifically. You deserve to know.
There are so many safe alternatives to organophosphates, so I honestly never understand why people opt for these harmful chemicals.
As the use of Amitraz began to decline, others like “Diazintol”, “Asuntol”, etc came in. These were relatively safer than Amitraz. Even these ones have become obsolete too.
Pyrethrins are now more acceptable. In fact dog shampoos now incorporate pyrethrins.
A typical example is Synergy Labs Tick and Flea Shampoo.
There are other preparations in form of soap bars and powders contain pyrethrins.
These are relatively safe. Of course, all medications must be used with caution.
Many other shampoos like Animology Tick and Flea Shampoo incorporates oils (lavender, cinnamon, eucalyptus, etc).
These oils are known to repel fleas, ticks, houseflies and others. This shampoo is nontoxic because it doesn’t contain any harsh chemical
One of the most significant ingredients developed for handling fleas and ticks is FIPRONIL, which is arguably one of the safest acaricides available.
Fipronil was ‘discovered’ and patented by Merial, a French pharmaceutical company, probably about two decades ago or more. They market the product as FRONTLINE SPRAY. I’m pretty sure most of us have either used it, or heard of it.
Through the years, Merial has perfected the product, by developing a ‘vehicle’ which can drive the chemical into the skin. So, bathing the dog doesn’t wash it out.
It keeps repelling fleas and ticks for up to a month! And is safe for use in young dogs(puppies) and pregnant dams/bitches too.
Questions and other feedback would be appreciated. Feel free to drop them in the comment section below.
About the author: Dr Chidi Ubachukwu (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), is a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He holds a Masters in Veterinary Diagnostic Pathology, from the University of Ibadan. His areas of interest are diagnostics, toxicopathology, and nutritional pathology.